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FILM REVIEW: The Favourite

WORDS BY ELLEN ROGERSON

4/5

Break out your finest wigs and corsets, Yorgos Lanthimos has resurrected period dramas. Typically I tend to stay away from period dramas, my only exceptions being the 1995 TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and some of Kenneth Branagh’s catalogue of Shakespearean retellings, because the plots tend to be a little contrived and the characters feel like they fall into the uncanny valley. The Favourite, however, obliterated my preconceived notations. Set in the 18th century, The Favourite follows a semi-fictional reimagining of the relationship between Sarah Churchill, Queen Anne’s closest advisor and lover, and Abigail Hill, a new servant who has fallen from higher standings, as they wage an uncourtly battle against each other to maintain the affections of an ailing and unstable Queen Anne. Set to a soundtrack of Bach, Vivaldi, and Schubert, this tragicomedy is absurd, bawdy and a much-needed breath of fresh air.

Lanthimos’ is widely known for his penchant for the offbeat and absurd, so in comparison to his previous works The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Favourite is a little easier on the palate but would still make an excellent introduction to his films for the uninitiated. That’s not to say The Favourite is an easy viewing – far from it. It’s highly visceral, filled with sex, blood, vomit, poison, and violence. It’s clear Lanthimos loves to make his audiences squirm from watching a scene wherein Queen Anne painfully vomit into an ornate vase before taking a messy bite of sky blue cake.

The cinematography also loves to play with the unexpected. Helmed by Robbie Ryan, it is sprinkled with beautiful visual oddities such as lighting fast pans (achieved without the use of a Steadicam, may I add), dolly shots, fisheye, and wide shot lenses. Some of these choices may feel gimmicky if highly stylised cinematography isn’t your thing but I found it enhanced The Favourites punk-infused rebellion against the powdery Merchant-Ivory films of the ’80s and ’90s, which so frequently come to mind when someone mentions ‘period drama’.

As well as adding to the films off-kilter rhythm, it allows the characters to be dwarfed by the palace, which reveals their more vulnerable moments in such an isolating environment  While it is undoubtedly that The Favourites mise en scène is rich and luxurious, thanks to the work of production designer Fiona Crombie and costume designer Sandy Powell who filled each shot with pearls, heavy velvet, mahogany, intricate tapestries, and towering wigs, the three little gems of the film are Emma Stone as Abigail, Rachel Weisz as Sarah and Olivia Colman as Queen Anne.

Emma Stone’s steadily increasing appetite for power and status throughout the film, having originally been introduced as a wide-eyed ingenue who was gambled away in a card game by her own father, is at times despicable as she worms her way into Queen Anne’s heart and bed. I’m sure every other review has commented on it but keep an ear open for Stone’s English accent, it’s pretty solid. She is also a perfect foil, initially, to Rachel Weisz’s Sarah, who is blunt, audacious and immensely funny as she knocks her lines out of the park with a witheringly cool delivery. Weisz’s romantic moments with Coleman feels real, tender, filled with longing glances and knowing smiles, and is still wonderfully bawdy. I’m sure I was the only audience member, amongst a crowd of elderly couples, to have yelped with delight when Coleman orders Weisz to “fuck [her]” in the royal library. 

Coleman’s portrayal of the sickly and unstable queen is heart-wrenching to watch. Her sudden screaming mood swings followed by torrential downpours of paranoia, low self-esteem, and physical agony provides a stark contrast to her comical, bratty outbursts and proves that Anne has much more heart and humanity than audiences would originally give her credit for.

I came away from the screening with so many of Coleman’s scenes printed behind my eyelids, however, my favourite is a tight shot of Queen Anne as she watches Sarah dance with another member of her court. The camera lingers on her for roughly 30 seconds, as every emotion rolls over her pale face and her eyes fill to the brim with tears, before swallowing it all and demanding that the dance stops. While my account does not do her performance justice, Coleman is a master of control and emotional vulnerability as an actor and is thoroughly deserving of her BAFTA and Oscar nominations. This is also why Lanthimos is such a superb director, he gives everything to his films. Humour, strength, pain, and playfulness. The Favourite lets us have our cake and eat it too.

Like this? Read up on all of our film posts HERE 👀

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FILM REVIEW: St Agatha

WORDS BY GEORGIA WORRALL

As part of Home‘s annual cinematic Halloween celebration, FilmFear, we were lucky enough to catch a screening of Darren Lynn Bousman’s latest flick ‘St Agatha’. Having previously directed sequels for the seminal ‘Saw’ franchise, Bousman came at the project with a whole wealth of experience directing gory thrillers. For this nunsploitation movie however, the horror came far more gradually and psychologically; though never the less terrifying.

St. Agatha (2018)

Set in a small town in the 1950’s, the plot follows Mary (Sabrina Kern); a young pregnant woman who’d just hit rock bottom. Desperate and without hope of a better life for herself and her unborn child, Mary seeks solace at an out-of-town convent where we’re introduced to the authoritarian Mother Superior (Carolyn Hennesy) and her odd-bod following of nuns. Mary’s hopes of sanctuary are quickly shattered, as she uncovers the sinister nature of the convent, and the nuns who’s supervision she is under.

Despite playing on many classic horror tropes, ‘St Agatha’ is a psychological thriller like nothing I’ve previously seen. It’s religious context could so easily have dictated this movie to play on supernatural ideas like many of its peers, however the evil we see is purely human. The sheer cruelty displayed by Mother Superior acts as the frame work for the story, as she picks off the women in her care one by one.

The spontaneous brutality quickly loses its shock factor though, as the audience quickly become accustomed to the routine physical and psychological torture that face the women. Despite it’s best efforts to keep the viewer in suspense throughout, it doesn’t take much time to realise that the film with play out as a battle of morality between Mother Superior and Mary (who is ‘reborn’ as the titular Agatha).

‘St Agatha’ is a bombardment of horror from the very start, however the desperation to keep the story unpredictable often played off as whimsical and even a bit funny. The film’s strength was absolutely in the complexity of Agatha and Mother Superior’s relationship, however the lack of attention paid to the supporting characters left the film feeling shallow in parts. Regardless, ‘St Agatha’ is well worth a watch. It’s idiosyncrasies give it a truly fresh take on many classic horror tropes, and definitely won’t leave the viewer disappointed.

Read more about the latest music news and reviews over on our blog 👀

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REVIEW: One Cut of the Dead @ HOME

WORDS BY ALICE SALMON

When you think of horror-comedy, you’ll probably go straight for the Scary Movie franchise – and with good reason. It takes something special for laughs and scares to sit comfortably in the same script without lapsing into parody or farce – did somebody say Sharknado? One Cut of the Dead is a breakout zombie horror classic that marries the two in award-winning fashion. It screened at HOME last night as part of Film4’s FilmFear season.

One Cut of the Dead is the brainchild of Japanese writer-director-producer Shin’ichiô Ueda – and it simply can’t be reviewed without first acknowledging the 37-minute single-take opener that has audiences going mad. At first, it’s disorientating: who is it that keeps wiping blood spatter off the camera lens? It only becomes clear later on that this isn’t an overlooked continuity error – it’s actually the central axis of a stellar meta-comedy.

“POM!”

But back to the plot. The film opens in a disused water filtration plant, somewhere in rural Japan. A megalomaniac director berates two young stars for their apparent ineptitude during filming of – you guessed it – TV zombie flick, One Cut of the Dead. They take a break after a scene’s 42nd take as the mood gets fractious. Needless to say, the cast are then split up very quickly, after some brief exposition – which is when the zombies come to play.horror, one cut of the dead, home, manchester

As the living and undead play a game of cat-and-mouse around the abandoned plant, the director pops back at the worst possible moments, delighting in how realistic everyone’s fear seems – and how great his film is shaping up. Watch out for make-up lady Nao’s invaluable self-defence lessons and being surprisingly handy with an axe.

Side note: it’s really difficult to not give away all the spoilers on this one, so it’s best you witness how the plot unfolds for yourself…

Every film genre features the joke-within-a-joke trope. Yet here it feels organic, the plot more relatable and the humour more…human.

The trailer points towards One Cut of the Dead being just another gore-fest at the hands of an unknown director. But that’s just a secondary device around which the main plot is based – which in itself replicates the reality of Ueda’s entire project. Any initially clunkiness adds to the comedic credibility of the latter stages of the film as Ueda’s intent slots into place.

This film comes highly recommended for those who aren’t so good with gore. Ueda portrays the trials of filming on a tight budget with aplomb, making easy bedfellows of contrasting concepts: a cast making the best of things, a father-daughter reconciliation and the universal appeal of slapstick.

No wonder it has a coveted 100% rating (97% viewer rating) on Rotten Tomatoes. Heartily endorsed by Film4 Channel Editor and FilmFear curator David Cox, One Cut of the Dead lovingly pokes fun at the genre it inhabits. This irreverently self-referential offering is one to watch, laugh and recommend to everyone you know: you won’t regret it.

You can still buy tickets for FilmFear here, taking advantage of HOME’s multi-save ticketing system.

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PREVIEW: FilmFear @ HOME, 26-31 October

Words by Alice Salmon

Halloween is just around the corner and all (evil) eyes are on HOME, as celebrated indie horror film festival FilmFear returns for another year of screams, spooks and scares. (Please note: pun-haters and the squeamish alike should look away now). This season (of the witch), MCR Live will be covering the festival for the first time – and with its fiendish calendar of events co-curated by Film4, there’s something for the horror fan in every (haunted) house.

You’ll find previews of cult genres (cheerleader slasher, anyone?) alongside Q&As from (in)famous directors and a (blood)-spattering of cult classics. These really are six (six, six) days of unmissable cinema. Music fans too, listen up – with scores from John Carpenter littering this year’s festival, everyone’s spine will be tingled. Here are some of our top picks ahead of the festival’s respawn tomorrow:

One Cut of the Dead (15)

Released last year to critical acclaim, Japanese zombie horror One Cut of the Dead has already gained notoriety for its agonising 40 minute single-take opener. Be prepared for blood, guts and a surprising amount of black comedy.

Mandy (18)

Blending action, horror and romance in one lethal cocktail, Mandy stars Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough in their fight against a seemingly-innocuous hippie cult who are in turn in league with a satanic biker gang. It ticks every box for those who like their horror bold, bloody…and with crossbows.

The Fog (15)

The penultimate day of the festival sees one of three cult classics brought back from the afterlife. Our pick of the three is The Fog, starring horror heroes Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh and Adrienne Barbeau – it’s an ‘80s feast for the (six) senses.

 

Want to check out these, and more, but you reckon it’ll get pretty expensive? Think again. 

HOME offers a multi-buy ticketing system, so the more films you book tickets for, the more money you save. For fans of indie cinema, horror classics, and those who already know what you did last summer, this promises to be devilishly good.

Click here for the full programme of events and ticket bookings

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COMMENT: M.I.A. and the Sound of Identity

Words by Alice Salmon

It’s widely agreed that art is the sum of its influences. Pick any great beatmaker, composer or lyricist, and you can hear their identity. For starters, there’s an endless array of artists that cite J Dilla as their biggest influence – his iconic sound is heard today hip hop, jazz and classical genres alike. Hear how Peggy Gou opts to sing in her native Korean throughout It Makes You Forget (Itgehane). And of course, witness Amy Winehouse’s famously mercurial back catalogue – her enduring love of hip hop and trad jazz reframed by a later exploration of Motown.

Arguably top of this list is the Sri-Lankan (via South London) rapper, M.I.A, whose newly released documentary Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unfolds as an impassioned, intricate tapestry of the two cultures that shaped her and her art. Cut from over 700 hours of archive footage shot by M.I.A. and her family as well as long-time friend Stephen Loveridge, Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. unflinchingly contextualises one of the most politically-charged artists of our time.

Set in the family home in London and the Arulpragasams’ dwellings in Jaffna, Sri Lanka (via Coachella, the Grammys and the 2012 Super Bowl), the film’s relentless cross-continent leaps seem a deliberate reflection of Maya’s steadfast grip on her cultural identity amidst unpredictable surroundings.

“Wanna hear my story? I’m gonna show you my story”

M.I.A talks candidly throughout the film, recounting her (at times chaotic) formative years. She recalls coming home from school one day to see the neighbours lined up, removing her family’s possessions from their Hounslow home. She told them that they could take what they wanted as long as she could keep her radio. Spoiler alert: they took the radio. As a result, she was forced to hear the unfamiliar sounds of hip hop blaring from the adjoining flat as she lay in bed that night. And from this, she says, her sound was born.

She doggedly pushes her reality into the Western consciousness throughout the film, with staggering reactions from the mainstream media. It’s in the face of such opposition that her music takes on a renewed relevance and meaning: we had no idea we were cookin’ for commandos / everybody came in four-wheeler truckloads (Macho, unreleased, 2004).

 

The documentary is a perfect illustration of how every morsel of art you ever consume is born from something else: music exists on one level to be enjoyed for what it is, but when you delve a little deeper and explore lyrics, artwork, beats and samples, there’s a wealth of riches to be devoured.

This film is a must-see for anyone with even a passing interest in M.I.A’s music. If it doesn’t make you want to revisit a track that has become an internet meme or re-evaluate M.I.A as a feminist icon – or just acknowledge her as a straight-up badass (search “M.I.A, NFL”) – then it will give you a poignant insight into what it really means to march to your own beat.

 

 

Matangi/ Maya/ M.I.A. is now showing at HOME. Book your tickets here.

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COMMENT: The New Wave Of Psychedelia

WORDS BY HANNAH TINKER       PHOTOS BY THROUGH THE EYES OF RUBY

The first album to define its own contents as psychedelic was the debut album by Texas garage rockers The 13th Floor Elevators, in October 1966 (The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators). Within a year, psychedelia had exploded across the music scene like a giant paint bomb, turning everything from monochrome to technicolour almost overnight and inspiring 1967’s epochal Summer of Love. The reverberations of the scene staked out in the Summer Of Love, are continually making waves in the pool of new musicians.

Four years since the first one, Manchester Psych Festival is now a fully fledged institution. With a selection of gigs promoted across the city each month under their moniker, it’s surpassed itself as a festival. Going beyond the boundaries of art and music the festival brings a like-minded community together in the heart of Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Psychedelia is making a re-imergence into the scene, leaking through the dusky cracks of post-punk and indie-rock and oozing into the forefront of the music scene.

Slow Knife at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

As one of the most prominent festivals in Manchester with a massive influence on the music scene, Manchester Psych Fest is a clearly dedicated to the cause. Taking over 4 dedicated venues, the festival embraces the new and unique. Recently, the festival saw it’s 6th edition and of course, we couldn’t miss it. Starting early, Slow Knife scoop up the crowd and place them on a level playing field: knowing exactly where the day is headed. Saxophone, keys and strings at the ready, their post-punk sound makes for an entertaining first viewing for the day. Spoken word at it’s greatest in ‘Nuke The Moon’ echoes through the Soup Kitchen basement and out through the door. All hail the knife. This is what psychedelia is about.

A quick switch over to Night & Day Cafe and we’re with MOLD for their well-anticipated afternoon slot. The five piece bring a theatrical onslaught to the stage, equipped with face paint and satirical smiles. The psych genre is set to take hold of the scene and is breathing deeply through bands like MOLD that set the stage alight and stand for something new.

MOLD at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

But what exactly is psychedelia? The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as “music, culture or art based on the experiences produced by psychedelic drugs” which is a little reductive for such a grand institution. LSD might have been the original inspiration, but it doesn’t explain why psychedelic music is still being produced and enjoyed by people who’ve never dropped acid in their lives. Psychedelia is appealingly vague and open-ended – a merger of philosophies, colours and styles all happening at once. It’s about opening your mind to the myriad possibilities that we’re met with each and everyday. It’s about reconnecting branching out, seeing clearly and letting go. It’s exciting, but also a little bit scary. Psychedelia isn’t a destination; it’s all about the journey.

The type of bands that are connected with this new unearthly scene of new age psychedelics are the type that set apart from the ordinary and bring a whole new offering to the table – whilst simultaneously not giving a shit about what the rabble think. With this year’s Psych Fest as an example, it’s not just a simple one-trick-pony movement. The festival comprises one day of such musicians – with artwork featured by local artists who are set to break the mould – and sounds from guitar-bass-drums outfits stretching the possibilities of the standard rock band set-up to electronic artists. There are so many acts that it raises the question: is all music, if it’s doing its job right (experimenting, blowing minds), psychedelic?

Madonnatron at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

The classic music of the psychedelic heyday was rooted in social opposition, a countercultural vibe that resonated with baby boomers, students and protesters. The music was not exclusively political or related to your everyday stoner, but in a climate of diverging identity, these new sounds flourished hand-in-hand with the changing landscape. Evolving through the present day, psychedelic music and social commentary are mutually exclusive. With politics a common topic, the psych collective consciousness seem to weigh on the side of identity and social preservation.

It’s been a long, strange trip for the genre that came to fruition through various different routes, starting with the whir and buzz of the 60s and 70s and not showing any sign of stopping, having become embodied by a myriad of current acts like Madonnatron, Yassassin and Meatraffle. For the remainder of Psych Fest, we caught the likes of the Wytches, Baba Naga, The Cosmics, Holy and Josefin Öhrn, each with their own unique take on the psychedelic movement but with a refreshingly new twist. Psychedelia is moving but at it’s own pace, in a strong, independent movement that’s reaching the nook and cranny of each and every musical alliance – whether you like it or not.

Meatraffle at Manchester Psych Festival 2018

Already keen to go to the festival next year? Keep up to date with the latest news about Manchester Psych Festival 2019 over on their Facebook page 🌀

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gaika basic volume

Review: GAIKA – Basic Volume

Gaika Tavares’ full-length debut for Warp records

In a scandal-consumed post-Brexit, post-Windrush world, the highlighting of the immigrant experience in London seems more necessary than ever before. Gaika Tavares has been encapsulating feelings of otherness in his music for the last three years, hopping across and blending a whirlpool of genre tropes that directly reference the diasporic value of sound system culture and the rich, historic, tapestry it weaves. But as knife crime figures soar in Britain’s capital, Basic Volume (Tavares’ debut full-length for Warp Records) feels more timely than any of his previous releases, and appropriately walks the line between navigating an alien, insurmountable cityscape and a guided tour through a lack of belonging.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Tavares outlined an encounter in the immigration line at Stanstead airport upon returning home from Barcelona. Despite brandishing a British passport he was singled out and questioned persistently about his purpose in the UK. Aligned with the fact that the title of the record is an ode to his father, who passed away last year, Basic Volume immediately stakes its claim as Gaika’s most personal and emotionally charged LP to date. His music has always been bitter, angry and desperately searching for a sense of self, but here he uses London’s bleakest side not as a tool by which to sue himself into submission, but as an emboldening foundation upon which life for black people, and particularly the kids at the mercy of gang crime, can be improved.

A record as thematically sprawling as Basic Volume is theoretically difficult to find a solid sonic palette for, but Gaika’s vision is steeped in pulling elements together in ways which require three or four listens. Here his fusion of dancehall, hip-hop and industrialism feels more gruelling than the more accessible R’n’B flavoured climbs of 2016’s Spaghetto. The opening title track sets a cinematic precedent, built on a hyper-coloured synth overture that glazes along a crawling boom-bap groove that oozes the rusting mechanisms of London’s more fragmented areas, and immediately unpacks the fears that come with “being naked and black in a white man’s world”.

The nightmarish low-end dissonance and ear-piercing squeals of ‘Hackers and Jackers’ sits perfectly as the backdrop to tales of inner-city corruption and physical brutality simultaneously, whilst the metallic, brick-to-skull intensity of ‘Black Empire (Killmonger Riddim)’ is as fitting as can be a foundation for a gloriously unashamed and righteous call to arms for London’s black community. There are softer moments, like ‘Ruby’, and an eerie (but gorgeous) 4th dimensional melody is a powerful weapon at the heart of tunes like ‘Born Thieves’ and the celestial highlight ‘Immigrant Sons (Pesos & Gas)’, both a fist-clenching feminist mover, and a declaration of the individualism and distinction of all of the UK’s minority communities.

The push-and-pull equation between personal and cultural lows that runs through the whole record unerringly magnifies the need for a real change of status quo (something which Tavares himself has said he hopes to achieve with the album). Nowadays, with the crushing cuts to arts facilities and venues across the city, it’s easy to feel like art is losing its ability to mobilise real social change. But Basic Volume wonderfully underpins the notion that by not giving up, by consistently challenging in consistently leftfield and creative ways, an escape is provided not just for those faced with grim reality but provides a sense of belief for those who are really living it.

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editors

NEWS: We’re Looking For Editors!

With a growing editorial output at MCR Live – and to keep up with the successes of our audio, visuals & events! – we’re looking to expand our core blog team to reach out to new audiences whilst offering the MCR Live audience more varied content. We have music locked down, but now we’re looking for the best of the best editors across theatre, art, film, culture, fashion, literature, photography and comment sections to lead teams, create ideas and to liaise with creatives in order to put together some boundary-pushing, engaging and wholly unique regular content!

We want to continue in our quest to becoming the cutting edge platform for Manchester and the North of England. With our video & on-air content flourishing more than ever (including the milestone of recently reaching Number 1 on the iTunes podcasting charts!!), we want to give our blog the time to shine & this is where you could come in to play!

Taking on the role of ‘Editor’, you’ll have the swanky title of ‘*INSERT CATEGORY* Editor‘. The amount that your section grows will be all up to you, and you will get full credit – we just want you to have the same vision, and drive we do!

Depending on the section, the role will entail:

  • Coming up with monthly content ideas & pitching to the team,
  • Contacting suitable creatives for interviews & liaising with industry contacts,
  • Arranging preview & review content for events,
  • Recognising trends within your section & delivering content that matches up or pushes these,
  • Fulfilling MCR Live’s ethos of ‘no genres barred’ content – focussing on quality over anything else,
  • Sourcing new contributors and managing contributors writing for your section in our exclusive group,
  • Editing and submitting to publishment within the allocated time-frame,
  • Publishing a minimum of 4 pieces per month (either by a contributor, or yourself),
  • Growing your contributor teams,
  • Attending MCR Live events and industry events on behalf of the platform,
  • Acting as a face of MCR Live & helping to grow the project.

Pieces could fit around a theme, be in line with current affairs trends or news, and should be as unique as possible… but more than this, we’d love you to take creative control and urge editors to have their own spin! For the full brand pack, head here.

All sound a bit much? Apply to be a contributor, here.

To apply, please fill out the short form below. Good luck!

Feel free to give us a message if you have any questions or would be interested in taking on any other categories we haven’t listed.

TAKE NOTE

I’m not based in Manchester – can I apply? Yes, of course! As long as you have shown an understanding of the scene around here and can organise relevant content for contributors, and can network in the venues and scene around you!

Is this a paid role? Unfortunately, not at present, but depending on the growth of the MCR Live project in the coming months this could change. However, it is a fantastic opportunity to build experience with one of the fastest growing media platforms in the UK & having an editorial role makes it easier to network with people in the media industry.

Do I have to work in the MCR headquarters? We do have space both in our studio in Ancoats and our offices in the Northern Quarter, should you need a space (desk, laptop, or computer) to edit on. This can work if you are based in town – or work nearby and are about in the afternoon – and we should be able to accommodate you (with notice)! We can also teach you SEO, and how to run the blog should you need a helping hand. However, feel more than free to work from home… just keep us up to date with what’s going on in your section!

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Holding a Mirror up to Society: Whiskey Chow

Chinese-born Activist turned Artist and Drag King, Whiskey Chow, arrived in Manchester to showcase her newest performance adding to her already impressive catalogue of work. With a thoughtful but energetic demeanour Whiskey met me in the gallery she performed in, the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (CFCCA) in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

From the beginning of our chat, Chow launched into a discussion of her experiences in the world of Performance Art and Drag, as well as the issues surrounding gender and sexuality both in China and the UK.

MCR: What drew you to performance art? 

Chow: As I began to grow as an artist, I began to use my body as a material. Performance Art is interactive and very human. Sometimes there will be a happy accident. In one performance in China, I was handing people a cigarette. Some refused but one woman took the cigarette from me, we finished our own cigarette while looking into each other’s eyes, in the end, she started kissing me. It adds layers to the performance, you never know what could happen but you have to let it happen and work with it in front of people. It’s an adventure for me. It also develops my own personality to become much more fluid. To do a performance, I can’t spend too much time thinking/planning, I have to follow my instinct because when the show time comes, I have to just do it! 

MCR: Your performance at the CFCCA, ‘Unhomeliness’ communicated vulnerability against an assault of typically ‘Chinese’ imagery added with the use of a mirror covering your face it implied that people see the fact that you’re Chinese rather than you as a person. Is that what you wanted to say? 

Chow: When people come to mean and think one thing, then someone else says another, it’s great. I don’t like giving a standard answer because then 100 people have one interpretation and by not defining what I mean it allows 100 people to have 100 different opinions. In my understanding, all the work isn’t limited to the/its performance but all the work is a combination of different symbols. The use of the mirror was playing on the fact that you might see your face on my face but you can’t see mine, I think my work such as drag, is all about performing as the Other. Regarding the Chinese imagery, the footage is shot in Chinatown, London. I go there very often and the feeling of a magical reality around there has never gone. They use too many strong symbols together to trigger a sense of belonging or directly informing those not from the culture, and both become a target. These things aren’t in China constantly and intensively, because Chinese people don’t need to have these dominant symbols every day. Chinatown and the London Gay village in Soho, another area full of dominant symbols, are right next to each other. One set of symbols is inserted among the other set and they don’t necessarily combine, but when people see them they are. It’s interesting to see what has been triggered by this random but ingenious combination for people from different places.

I have to point out that the timing of my work is poignant, this year is difficult for the Chinese LGBT community with the issues surrounding Eurovision, the removal of gay content on Weibo (which has now stopped) as well as many other incidents highlighting an obvious repression of the queer community. But people on Weibo protested the ban on gay content and the outcome is very exciting, many (non-activist) people have sent their voice to support the LGBT community. The movement isn’t small. 

MCR: You created a show in China, ‘For Vagina’s Sake’. What was the response like?

Chow: Some men felt uncomfortable. They said we should have ‘The Penis Monologues’ and then a gay man said we should have ‘The Anal Monologues’. But we did have a Q&A with the audience and a lot of people would say that it’s too heavy – why did you display that on the stage or what’s the solution? We mixed heaviness and happiness with more proportion of heaviness because that was the reality. We showed and shared what we see, but we’re not politicians or social workers so we are not providing solutions. The Hong Kong audience couldn’t understand the problem with sexual harassment between professors and students. Coincidentally, there was a famous case in China recently where a student committed suicide after being coerced and manipulated into a sexual relationship with her professor. 

 

MCR: Is sexual harassment in Chinese universities that prevalent? 

Chow: I won’t use the word ‘prevalent’, but we can’t deny that the exposure of these cases has been increasing. When students plan to study aboard, some of them have to ingratiate themselves to their professor to get the reference letter. Some male students also undergo this because the professor could demand everything. This kind of power abuse becomes common. Since the socio-political context and higher education system in Hong Kong are hugely different, they couldn’t understand how this could have happened – but that was actually the starting point of our conversation. People are very keen on going to the theatre to watch gender-related work as there were not many in the mainstream scene, so we reached the maximum capacity for the shows in Mainland China and had to turn people away. They really wanted to see the show and engage with this topic. 

MCR: What are the gender norms like in China? we’ve heard of ‘Leftover women’ but there aren’t any leftover men.

Chow: It’s a harsh gender culture for both men and women because most of the parents are expecting the man who wants to marry their daughter to own a flat, a car and have a decent job. The responsibility for men to provide is very heavy and intense. But there’s a saying in China that the female PhD is the third gender in Chinese society because most of the men are intimidated by their intelligence and independence. The whole society requires everyone to be the same so if you are different, even a little bit, you can expect to be questioned by people, like “why isn’t she married?” “why are they married but have no children?”  This kind of culture has a strong family value emphasis. A lot of queer people will say that Chinese New Year is a disaster for them because they are questioned about marriage when they reunite with their families. 

 

MCR: What goes into your process when creating a show? 

Chow: I went out a lot when I was studying and witnessed different types of performance including contemporary art, live art, queer cabaret and drag itself. I gained inspiration from everywhere and to do my piece at the CFCCA I did research of the work of Joan Jonas. Her practice is very interdisciplinary – she used video projection a lot in her live performance. My own practice is usually messy, I normally use paint and yoghurt, whereas Jonas’s work is quite clean. To keep getting inspired, you just need to look at the world carefully and curiously, not even need to visit galleries too frequent. For example, when I finished my most recent performance, I gained a lot of inspiration from exploring Manchester and taking pictures of anything I thought interesting. I remember when people were asking me about Chinese performance art of the 80s and 90s and its influence on me and I replied with “not a lot”. My motivation is not only from the study of performance art but also from myself. It focuses on the now. My activist experience also has a big impact on my practice. Making art is one of the careers in the world that you never really have time off, because everything you see, everything you think of, everything you make, are all somehow connected.

MCR: What interested you about drag? 

Chow: For me I think the masculine woman always has a special dynamic with their own female body, my MA dissertation researched into ‘butch in performance’. I read a book on drag kings in the 90s in London and New York and you can see the masculine performance as either the hyper-masculinity which is stereotypically the gay man’s sexuality or a straight man’s but there’s no in-between. I talked to Jack Halberstam who published the book and they asked me if I thought the drag scene is still radical and I think it’s a good question. I don’t go to drag shows very often now because I know what it’s going to be like and it’s very interesting to see it done in a new way. For my own drag practice, I am interested in creating the drag character in a different way to do with race and culture. As well as challenging the nature of existing drag shows themselves and the imagination towards the drag shows. I dragged myself by using the reference from my culture (Chinese Opera) and it’s history of cross-dressing from its own to the context of western drag scene.

MCR: What’s next? 

Chow: I’m not sure, it depends on what kind of opportunity I receive, I’m quite open about it. I would like some kind of long-term research based work and I want to explore more about cultures in China and have more of a conversation with the Chinese audience. For now, working in the UK allows me to have conversations with institutions and individual audience about queer culture, post-colonialism and Chineseness. To digest the feedback from the different audiences is an important way for me to look back at my practice, but the inspiration only happens when the conversation is at the same level. 

 

 

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¡Viva!

INTERVIEW: ¡Viva! Spanish & Latin American Festival 2018

In its 24th Edition, the Spanish and Latin American festival is back with the theme ‘Revolution’

HOME Manchester, a place for curiosity seekers and lovers of the dramatic. Since the one-of-a-kind venue’s opening in 2015, the organisation has challenged, educated and entertained by showcasing a broad selection of contemporary art, theatre and film. This fact is only proven with the conception of the Spanish and Latin American film festival, ¡Viva! finding it’s home at the art space. Since ¡Viva! first arrived to celebrate purely Spanish film 24 years ago, it has expanded to include Latin America and uses all three aforementioned forms of expression to highlight the individual culture of each country. From Europe’s first interaction with Latin America, the continent has been heavily romanticised – whether it is through means of gold, music, culture – and now even oil! – the continent continues to be described as a land of natural abundance and wealth. The same can be said for the talent of Latin American art, theatre and film meaning that combined with Spain’s own cultural capital the festival promises to be an amazing celebration of the arts & an incredibly diverse event. 

I met with ¡Viva! festival coordinator, Jessie Gibbs, to learn more about the event and her own opinions regarding Spain and Latin America. 

 

How/why was ¡Viva! created? 

Jesse Gibbs: That’s actually one of the most asked questions, but one of the most difficult to answer because the event goes back 24 years. It started off purely as a Spanish Film Festival by a woman called Linda Pariser through a combination of personal interest and a love of Spanish cinema – as well as the audience the festival already had.  Since then, about 4/5 years after it expanded, ¡Viva! then grew to include both Spain AND Latin America. When HOME was set up we were able to involve theatre as well to achieve a cross-artform to the festival. Our aim is to have something for everyone. 

Why did you decide to focus on politics for 2018’s installment? 

JG: The Revolution theme was a sidebar idea for this year’s theme and visual-art links in with this – it is very powerful in Latin America. I think the politics, left or right, have been quite tumultuous in Latin American history and they loom large in people’s ideas perhaps in Latin America… and it led on from last year. We’d focused on Spain in our theme because we were looking at the transition to democracy and the anniversary of the end of censorship, so we also wanted to have a theme for Latin America. Having a theme is a way to get the creative juices flowing, and to find what we want to look for, rather than an obvious “what are the latest releases”.

What went into choosing the content? Did each country have a theme? 

JG: No, we wouldn’t want to necessarily schedule our programme by a predetermined idea that has to be “this”, even with the Revolution theme. Whilst we have that theme, it doesn’t cover the whole festival. We try to have spread nationalities, there will always be several films from Spain. We then try to have at least one film each from lots of different Latin American countries – the biggest film industries celebrated under the ¡Viva! umbrella tend to be that of Argentina and Mexico, so there’s always going to be a couple from there.  We also work with certain sales agents and we see what they want to offer us, but it is very much about having a range of films that will appeal to a range of people from a range of countries. However, they all have to be high quality – which I know is completely subjective – but more or less… objective. We’re a team of three that are choosing these films and we’ve already begun choosing for next year, its a very long process.

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Whenever Latin America is discussed, in the news and the media, its always described as one area despite the differences each country in the continent has. Why do you think that is?

JG: Perhaps a lack of education about the area? I think its also the way that sales agents might use it to market the area – Latin America has a stronger image than any specific Latin American country, so they will use that. Obviously, there is a shared history and – for many – there’s a shared language and cultural background. There are definite similarities and there’s a sense of solidarity but on the other hand, they’re also wildly different. If you think that within the size of the UK we all have like our own certain identity and area quirks – think about that, and if you multiplied that by the size of Latin America. Although there’s a linguistic-link between the countries, you will find that someone from Chile could struggle to understand the accent of somebody from Cuba because they’re quite different. And then, of course, there are indigenous languages – the continent seems more homogenous than in reality. Plus then there are the non-Spainish people in parts of Latin America which makes it even crazier to lump the place together. 

I guess the simplest way to understand why this is comes from the fact that Latin America is just very far from home and it has an exotic label which has been going on for decades, since the 1950s with Carmen Miranda and fruit piled on her head, – all those stereotypes do persist today. In fact, that is one of the things that we try and do with the festival, we want to bring out the different identities and different parts of Latin America to audiences.  

In your opinion, are UK cinemas too US orientated? Should more mainstream cinemas be following in HOME’s footsteps and playing more foreign language films? 

JG: Personally I would love that, and that’s definitely one of the things that HOME does well. Mainstream cinemas and multiplexes tend to be dominated by Hollywood films, blockbusters, and its all about “who’s got the most money and star appeal” – it’s definitely not judged by quality as far as I can see. 

So that’s something important for this festival – to promote independent and foreign language film, which I think we’re doing a really good job of! It would be nice if there were more independent cinema venues around like ours. Its difficult to counteract that with money-motivated multiplex’s. I’m proud to say that’s not our primary motive.  

¡Viva! began on the 12th April and will be running until the 5th May 2018, visit HOME for more details.

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